Berks County officials continue to work to determine how they will spend one of the largest financial windfalls the county has ever seen.
At an operations meeting on Tuesday, county commissioners heard that interest in a grant program proposed by the county to distribute funds from the U.S. federal bailout was high. Karra Mayo, grants coordinator for the county, said a total of 160 applications requesting a total of $42 million had been received by the March 31 deadline.
The county has begun reviewing those applications and has already reduced the number to 113, Mayo said. The 47 applications that were rejected were rejected because they did not meet the grant program criteria.
Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the rejections, as well as to move the remaining 113 – requesting a total of $35 million – to a second round of review.
Mayo said three meetings are scheduled for the review committee over the next few weeks. She said she expects the committee to be able to present final recommendations to commissioners by the end of June.
About the grant program
The federal government has provided government agencies such as the county with large sums of money to help fight and recover from the COVID pandemic. The US bailout sent nearly $82 million to the county.
The commissioners want to ensure that the money is spent in a way that has the greatest possible return on its investment. And that means mobilizing resources and working with community partners to ensure those funds will have a positive impact on the community, they said.
Commissioners voted unanimously in February to set aside $18 million to distribute to organizations and groups through a grant program in 2022 and $12 million in 2023. The maximum amount of funds a organization can request is $1 million or 25% of the total cost. of the project — whichever is lower.
The county focuses on five main categories:
• Public health.
• Negative economic impacts.
• Administrative and data costs.
• Services for the hardest hit communities.
The commissioners plan to keep $37 million of the $82 million for county use, based on advice from budget department officials. That leaves an undesignated $14 million that they said they would decide how to spend at a later date.
The county has already taken in $41 million, the first of two bailout payments the county is expected to receive. The second installment is expected next May. The county will have until the end of 2024 to allocate these funds and until the end of 2026 to spend them.
The county created a website to provide residents with everything they need to know about the US bailout funding it received. The site explains why the county received money under the plan, how much it received, how community members can apply for grants, and allows the community to track the distribution of funds.
So far, commissioners have only allocated $7.5 million.
The board voted last summer to give $3 million each to the Reading Fightin Phils and the Santander Arena and Performing Arts Center to help offset financial losses the team and venues suffered as a result of the pandemic. They also spent $1.1 million to operate the Berks Cares vaccination center and mobile testing site support, about $200,000 for contracted contact tracing through Co-County Wellness Services and $95,000 to cover administrative expenses.